The Highest Health Care Cost In America? Mental Disorders

If this doesn't convince you mental illness is "real," nothing will.
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

If you’re still of the belief that mental health conditions aren’t as devastating as physical ones, a new report will open your eyes.

The United States spent an estimated $201 billion on mental disorders like anxiety and depression in 2013, according to the new analysis published in the journal Health Affairs. That makes it the costliest medical condition in the country.

Researcher Charles Roehrig, founding director of the Michigan-based Center for Sustainable Health Spending, examined approximately 10 different categories of conditions using the most recent estimates available from the National Health Expenditure Accounts, provided by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Heart conditions were the second costliest condition, falling far behind mental disorders at $147 billion. Trauma and injury was third at $143 billion.

The study is the most comprehensive look at the cost of health care issues in the U.S. because it includes both the general population as well as those who are in institutions like prisons, the researcher said.

“One key finding of this study is the degree to which spending on mental health disorders in 2013 exceeded those on all other medical conditions, including heart conditions, trauma, and cancer,” Roehrig wrote in the study’s conclusion. “Spending on mental disorders tends to be underestimated in other sources because institutionalized populations are excluded.”

Not too long ago, heart conditions outweighed mental disorders. Cardiovascular health care costs were an estimated $105 billion in 1996, with mental disorders coming in second at $79 billion.

The findings are just another example of how important it is to recognize mental illness as a prevalent public health issue. Nearly one in four people will experience a mental health condition at some point in his or her life. Despite this fact, though, there’s still a lack of sensitivity and understanding in society ― and even the medical community ― when it comes to mental disorders.

Research shows a dangerous stigma lingers around mental health. Negative perceptions surrounding mental illness often prevent people from seeking treatment, which can have serious consequences. Untreated mental health conditions like depression are the leading cause of suicide.

Data also suggests that not addressing mental illness can affect a company’s bottom line. Serious mental illnesses result in approximately $193 billion in lost earnings per year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Ultimately, the cost of mental health issues extends beyond a dollar sign, but perhaps the staggering figure in the report will finally serve as a wakeup call for those who believe psychological conditions aren’t real issues. In other words, can we please take mental illness seriously now?

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